SYDNEY (AP) — An Australian nurse who says he was forced by Islamic State militants to work as a medic in Syria was arrested after returning home and faces terrorism-related charges of supporting the movement.
Adam Brookman, 39, was arrested at Sydney International Airport on Friday night on a Victoria state warrant relating to his alleged involvement in the conflict in Syria, Australian Federal Police said in a statement on Saturday.
He is the first Australian involved with the Islamic State known to have returned home since the Sunni fighters swept into western Iraq in June last year and declared the establishment of a caliphate, Monash University terrorism expert Greg Barton said.
“He’s certainly the first Australian to come back from IS-controlled territory having lived and worked among IS,” Barton said. “Culpability is the nub of the issue here.”
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Dozens of Australians who are suspected of fighting with militias in the Middle East have previously returned home. But none has been charged because of a lack of proof.
Brookman appeared from a police cell by video link in the Parramatta Bail Court on Saturday, where a magistrate granted an application by the Melbourne Joint Counter Terrorism Team to extradite him to his hometown of Melbourne in Victoria. He is to appear in a Melbourne court no later than Monday morning on two charges that each carries a maximum of 25 years in prison.
Court documents show both charges allege that Brookman knowingly provided support to the Islamic State movement by undertaking guard duty and reconnaissance for the militants. That support would allegedly help the group “prepare or foster” a terrorist act.
The court was told that a warrant for Brookman’s arrest was issued on Friday. Brookman did not speak during his brief appearance.
He surrendered to Turkish officials in Turkey on Tuesday and voluntarily flew back to Australia with a police escort.
Brookman, a Muslim convert and father of five children who live in Melbourne, told Fairfax Media in May that he went to Syria last year to do humanitarian work for civilians caught in the war. He said he was innocent of any crime and was forced to join Islamic State militants after being injured in an airstrike and taken to a hospital controlled by the group at al-Bab in Aleppo province.
“After I recovered, they wouldn’t let me leave,” he told Fairfax.
He won the militants’ trust by working as a medic and was able to escape to Turkey in December, he said.
Brookman told Fairfax that he opposed the violent and extreme actions of the militants, including the beheading of their captives.
“Of course there will be an investigation. That is fine. Hopefully things don’t look that bad,” Brookman told Fairfax.
It is not clear whether Brookman was still in Syria on Dec. 4, when Australia made a presence in the Islamic State stronghold of al-Raqqa province in Syria a crime punishable by 10 years in prison. If charged, the onus would be on Brookman to prove he had a legitimate reason to be in the terrorist hotspot.
Barton said it was unclear whether Brookman was ever in al-Raqqa, although he admits to being in a town controlled by the Islamic State.
Islamic State militants have had conspicuous success in recruiting in Australia, which has 24 million people. The majority are Christian while 2 percent are Muslim.
The London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence estimates that between 100 and 250 Australians have joined Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria. The center estimates only 100 U.S. fighters have arrived from an American population more than 13-times larger.
The government estimates that up to half the Australian foreign fighters are dual nationals. It plans to legislate to strip them of their Australian citizenship to prevent them from returning.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.